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Codec Chatter: Fallout 3 Director Todd Howard

For our second Codec Chatter, Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls director Todd Howard talks about his canceled superhero game, explores making an iPhone game, and professes his love for Batman: Arkham Asylum, Madden football, and Forza.

A few years ago, you contributed a What If column about Batman. Here’s what you had to say: “It’s a wide-open freeform Batman simulator. Presentation like Assassin’s Creed and you can explore the entire city. Climb buildings, collect clues, capture criminals, and save the city. You have to manage your “Vigilante” level; the cops don’t like it when you’re careless. Reduce your Vigilante level by doing mission for Commissioner Gordon. Get in good and they’ll put up the Bat Signal. The game follows the entire career of Batman. You start as naïve Bruce Wayne and develop your toys over time. It has parts similar to X-Com where you run Wayne Enterprises and allocate your money for equipment and R&D. You upgrade your costume, utility belt, Batcave, and several vehicles. The entire game looks like Alex Ross painted it.” In the wake of Rocksteady’s masterpiece Arkham Asylum, would you change your pitch in any way?

Only in one way, I wouldn’t make it - I’d have Rocksteady make it. Arkham Asylum is easily the best game of the year so far.

You also mentioned you worked on a superhero game in 1995.

It was like one of our big RPGs – you make the superhero you want to be and then go out in a big city and do different kinds of missions, have a hideout, work with various factions, level up, etc. It never got very far along; we had some character models and a costume system ready that wasn’t unlike what City of Heroes does. Would be fun to make that game someday. Every time I get the itch to make a superhero game a really good one comes along. First it was Freedom Force and now it’s Batman. I love both those games.

Now that you’ve successfully reinvented Fallout, is there another classic franchise you’d like to bring to the next generation?

I’d go with Wing Commander. I think the world needs a cinematic space shooter reboot. Maybe I can swing the Battlestar Galactica license and sneak it in that way.

The ranks for western RPG developers has thinned over the years. Why do you think this is?

They’re all making, or attempting to make, MMOs now.

What are you thoughts on the new motion-controlled peripherals like Natal and the Sony wands? Any interest in working on a game that incorporates this technology?

We’re looking at Natal. Not sure how we’d use it yet, but the tech is crazy awesome. I love the high level thinking Microsoft has done on it, and it really does some cool stuff. The microphones in it are positional, and can even tell which player is talking and ignore the other shouting. And it’s instant motion capture that works. I hope it does really well.

And what about arcade titles?

We’re messing with the iPhone for stuff like that. I’m addicted to mine. Not sure when we’ll have something out, but it’s pretty cool. I like our design for it. It’s something we pick away at.

Did you have any involvement in the new Elder Scrolls book, The Infernal City by Greg Keyes?

Just a little in the beginning really, going over what the high level story and setting he wanted to use. Kurt Kuhlmann and Bruce Nesmith, two of our designers here, worked with Greg a lot on the lore and how the story was working. What’s nice with Greg is, he not only has a lot of experience delving into an existing world, but making one. So we really wanted to use him to take the world of The Elder Scrolls and make it even better. He’s fleshed out a lot of stuff that we never have.

With Fallout: New Vegas moving to Obsidian, Is difficult to let go of the day-to-day operations on a game you helped reinvent?

Sure it is, but they obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to Fallout, and I get to just play this one, so I’m looking forward to it.

What games have you been playing, and which ones are you looking forward to this holiday season?

Been playing Batman. It’s so close to perfect. I love how they work in all the subtle history from the comic books, how they treat the gadgets, and more. The whole package just makes you feel like you’re Batman, while stripping away some of the gaminess that could creep in. I also play a lot of Madden football. We have a full online franchise for the office and it’s really addicting. It’s made me lose interest in real Fantasy Football, because with this, I get to actually play the games myself. Looking forward to Forza 3. I’m also a Forza nut. I still play Forza 2. Of course Modern Warfare 2. I think that game has already become the kind of thing that if you don’t buy it and play it all your friends will mock you. I don’t know that there’s a better developer than Infinity Ward, either. I’m curious to see how much of the gaming dollars it sucks up this fall, or does it raise the whole industry up for the holidays? A lot of games have moved out of its way, and I think that’s an interesting phenomenon.

Just out of curiosity, what is your character class of choice in Elder Scrolls and Fallout?

I usually play a combat stealth good guy. Maybe more chaotic good. Like Batman!

Starting today, I’m christening you video games’ George R. R. Martin. It’s been four years since Martin released A Feast For Crows, and we’re up to three years since Oblivion still with no announcement of Elder Scrolls V.  Reading Martin’s blog, I see he spends his days watching football and painting pewter miniatures. What’s your excuse?

I too like to watch football. In my spare time I play and make video games. Made this little one called Fallout 3. So, yeh, that one took some time, that’s my excuse. It’s not like George R. R. Martin wrote some other epic recently, so can I get a pass on that?

No.

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